Larbalestier, Lessing, Link

Today’s helping of women writers of science fiction and fantasy includes Justine Larbalestier, Doris Lessing, and Kelly Link. If any of their work sounds interesting to you, please do check them out — and if you have enjoyed something by them that I haven’t mentioned, let me know in the comments.

Magic or Madness by Justine Larbalestier

This is a marvelous read, and I’m seriously considering buying the entire trilogy for my son for Christmas. The main character is Reason (so named because her mother “believes in all those things: logic, reason, and the rest, and in mathematics, which fortunately wasn’t on the list of possible names”). Reason has been brought up to believe that magic doesn’t exist, that her grandmother only thinks she’s a witch, and that Reason is safest far, far away from her grandmother.

The other characters are memorable — Sarafina, her mother who has gone mad; Esmerelda, her grandmother; Tom, her grandmother’s neighbor; Jay-Tee, who helps Reason when she accidentally walks from Sydney to New York; Danny, Jay-Tee’s brother; and Blake, Jay-Tee’s patron of sorts. Some of the chapters are written from Reason’s point of view, some from other people’s. One of the things I was really impressed with is that although these other characters know more about magic and what’s really going on, none of them think in infodumps. We can tell that they’re surprised by Reason’s ignorance or naïveté, but Larbalestier doesn’t have them think through “This is what she doesn’t know.” It’s deftly handled, one of many facets for the characters’ voices and the generally excellent writing.

Justine Larbalestier can be found on her Website,

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

This book has only the most tenuous of connections with speculative fiction: the fifth child, Ben, is a throwback to an earlier genetic state. Not quite human, he doesn’t bond with his brothers and sisters, doesn’t show affection to his parents. In fact, he terrorizes the entire house, even as a very young child.

Quite frankly, this was a depressing read. I know that Lessing wrote a sequel to it, but I’m not going to read it. By the end of this book, Ben is a young hoodlum who has found people and a lifestyle where he can be accepted, and I don’t think his choices are going to get any better. As a commentary on our treatment of the monsters in our society, those who are not like us, Lessing paints a bleak picture, where even those who try are damaged in the process and the monster doesn’t care about the effort.

I don’t know if I can say I’m glad I finally made time to read some of Lessing’s work. (I didn’t when her Nobel prize was awarded in 2007.) As I said, it was a depressing book, and I don’t like depressing reading. On the other hand, now I have, and I can cross that off my “I really should read something by her” list.

A retrospective of Doris Lessing’s work can be found at

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link

This was Kelly Link’s second collection of short fiction, featuring such wonders as her “Faery Handbag” and “Some Zombie Contingency Plans.” Her stories are surreal, weird, not of this place and time while firmly rooted in the everyday. (Okay, “Catskin” isn’t part of our world, but generally speaking.) I have a copy of the hardback, but for those who are interested in dabbling (if you have somehow not managed to read Kelly Link’s work before), Small Beer Press has it available as a free download.

“The Faery Handbag” was the first story I ever read by Link, before I even bought the collection. It’s a wonderful premise — a handbag bigger inside than out, with entire worlds to explore. Better than a bag of holding, almost as cool as a Tardis, but more subject to misappropriation. I do hope Genevieve finds her grandmother’s handbag some day.

Link’s stories are whimsical and fey and have an air of melancholy in them, an idea that things can’t and shouldn’t go back to the way they were. That perhaps they never were the way we thought they were to begin with. In “Stone Animals,” we see a couple buy a house and how their lives and the lives of their children change, and in “The Great Divorce,” the issue is with marrying the dead and how the dead are always with us. Link makes us take a new look at the world and really think about what we’re seeing and believing. I highly recommend picking up this collection, or perhaps Stranger Things Happen, her first collection. With Link, it’s a safe bet that stranger things do happen in her stories.

Kelly Link can be found at

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